Banking on volunteer welfare system

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I completely agree that the review of the bedroom tax announced by the UK government may be more of a cursory box-ticking exercise than an admission of its failings (Leader, 16 October).

But surely it will represent the first step towards acceptance of the fact the policy attacks the very people the welfare system is meant to support.

As your second editorial indicates, the devastating effect of these benefit changes doesn’t stop at forcing vulnerable people out of their homes. They are even preventing people from being able to feed themselves.

It’s wrong that people in their thousands are turning to food banks in Scotland. The latest figures issued by the Trussell Trust point to a dire situation, which is only getting worse.

And it’s not the so-called “shirkers” who are finding themselves unable to provide the basics for their families.

It’s people who work hard in low-paid jobs whose top-up benefits are being cut, and people who care for their disabled partner or child who are being caught up in the delays and chaos accompanying the changes.

In fact, nearly 60 per cent of people using food banks are forced to as a result of delays in benefit payments or because they’re losing out in the transfer to new benefits.

The only saving grace in all this is that it shows what can be achieved when communities come together to help people when they have nowhere else to turn to. 

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has brought together the latest thinking from across charities and the third sector in a report, A better state: inclusive principles for Scottish welfare, which considers how Scotland might build a new welfare system and what shape it would take.

Now the government and other agencies, all must work together to identify gaps in support which need to be filled right now and to think ambitiously about how we might have a more inclusive welfare system in Scotland.

John Downie

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations


The efforts to create food banks made by the Christian charity the Trussell Trust and all who support them are laudable (your report, 16 October), but worrying in the context of the bigger picture.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury alerted Christians in 2011 to the dangers of the government’s “Big Society” initiative to shrink the state and hand more control of services to volunteer groups and charities.

He warned it might be a “stale slogan” and “an opportunistic cover for spending cuts”.

This much was confirmed in an address to the Council of Christians and Jews at a reception in Downing Street last year, where David Cameron reaffirmed his Big Society idea, that “there’s a huge space between government and the individual that can be filled by organisations, faith-based organisations perhaps in particular, that can deliver great public services, that can do great things in terms of tackling some of the problems of our time”.

There is no greater witness to “the problems of our time” than food banks, a clear sign that the poor are both increasing in number and becoming poorer.

The churches should be concerned that while at grassroots level they are delivering a valuable service, they are, as Rowan Williams correctly surmised, seen as convenient patsies by this government on which to offload financial and social responsibility for the poor.

In this sense every food bank is a tragic symbol of a successful government policy; ironically a government whose ministers have told us this is a Christian country that is proud to “do God”.

Alistair McBay

National Secular Society

Atholl Crescent


There are many views being reported on the food bank stories and in reading the comments on your website I was amused to see people using it as an excuse to further argue over independence.

I agree that it is the policies implemented by the Tories that have increased the use of food banks but to ignore the problem at hand and discuss instead Scottish independence shows how simple-minded people can be.

The government is denying that it is ignoring the increased need for free food for these families by quoting the tax-free allowance of £10,000 and the freeze on council tax implemented a few years ago.

The problem is that the current wage and benefits available to some are not enough to cover the cost of living these days, not that people are making the wrong budgeting decisions, as said by Education Secretary Michael Gove, or that the increased availability of food banks has increased demand for them, as suggested by Lord Freud.

The latter is more upsetting due to the implication that these families are freeloaders, when many are working and just can’t cover the costs.

It’s a sorry state for the sixth richest country in the world.

Laura Morrison

Department of Sociology

University of Glasgow